Exclusive: GM replacing some 9,500 Chevrolet Volt chargers after overheating complaints

Chevrolet Volt charge cord
Chevrolet Volt charge cord

Four months ago, Yahoo! Autos reported about complaints from Chevrolet Volt owners whose 120-volt charging cords overheated and in a few cases melted, raising questions about the cords' durability. At the time, General Motors told us it was confident the cords were safe, saying the heating was likely due to wiring problems in the outlets.

This week, GM reversed course. It will now replace the 120-volt chargers in all Volts sold so far -- roughly 9,500 vehicles -- with a new unit featuring a more heat-resistant cord and plug.

GM spokesman Randal Fox says the move, which GM does not consider a recall or a safety issue, was meant to "offer a more consistent charging experience." Volt owners will be notified of the swap by letter in the next few weeks.

A member of the GM Volt forums who brought their Volt to a dealer this week already received the new charger, with the dealer adding that it was supposed to be part of the Volt's recall announced in Janary to eliminate a potential source of fire after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set a crash-tested Volt on fire by leaving it parked for three weeks upside-down with its batteries charged:

What changes? The plug. The 12" cord that connects the outlet to the charger has been upgraded to a more industrial looking plug and cord. The cord is now black and heavier gauge. The cord that connects the charger to the car remains the same (orange).

Other owners also reported the new charger changes to a 14-gauge wire for the 120-volt charger from the previous 16-gauge cord -- a thickness that's similar to what the Nissan Leaf uses in its home charger.

While the 120-volt chargers aren't meant for everyday charging, many Volt owners rely on them for topping off their battery packs or when traveling away from a dedicated electric vehicle charger, which can run cost thousands of dollars. NHTSA had not opened a safety investigation into the chargers.

While GM has temporarily halted Volt production in the face of slow sales, anecdotal evidence suggest sales could be picking up this month due to gas price worries and the first national incentives on the Volt of a zero-percent loan for up to five years. The Volt may always be a political football, but moves like this one show GM's still in the game.